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U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Five Honorary Degree Recipients Headline UMass Lowell Commencement


N E W S    R E L E A S E

LOWELL, MA ߝ U.S. Sen. John Kerry and five honorary degree recipients will be featured at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s commencement on Saturday, May 31 at 10 a.m. at the Tsongas Arena.

Sen. Kerry will deliver the commencement address to nearly 2,000 graduates who are expected to receive bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.  The University is also honoring five outstanding individuals with honorary doctoral degrees.

“We are honored to have such a distinguished group of honorees this year,” said Chancellor Marty Meehan.  “The honorary degree recipients represent the very best ߝ some who have received the highest honors in their respective fields as well as some of our most exceptional alumni who offer a wonderful example of the impact that UMass Lowell can have on someone’s life.”

This year’s honorary degree recipients are:

  • Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, co-founder and chairman of Sycamore Networks Inc. Deshpande serves as a member of the MIT Corp. and his generous donations have made possible MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation.  Deshpande was the keynote speaker at “Innovation for the Next Generation,” a signature event during the recent inauguration week at UMass Lowell. During the program, Deshpande shared his advice for students interested in successfully capitalizing on today’s innovation economy.
  • Charlayne Hunter-Gault, an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years experience.  She is a special correspondent with National Public Radio and has also worked for CNN as its Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent.  Other posts include previous work for NPR as the network's chief correspondent in Africa and 20 years as a national correspondent for “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS.  Her numerous honors include two Emmy awards and two Peabody awards.  
  • Mary Jo Leahey, class of 1937, graduated from the College of Music at the State Teachers College at Lowell, one of UMass Lowell predecessor institutions.   Leahey is the visionary, founding benefactor and inspiration for the Mary Jo Leahey High School Summer Band Camp, a one-week program for talented students who have a passion for music.   In 1998, Leahey received the Francis Cabot Lowell Alumni Award in Fine Arts.
  • Gerald Martone, class of 1979, director of Humanitarian Affairs at the International Rescue Committee.  Martone is involved in advocacy on behalf of people affected by political oppression, disasters and violent conflict.  He is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs, course lecturer in humanitarian assistance at Fordham University, and a contributing editor to the American Journal of Nursing.
  • Edward O. Wilson, professor emeritus at Harvard University, where he taught for four decades and received both of its college-wide teaching awards. He is the author of 25 books, two of which won Pulitzer Prizes, “Human Nature” (1978) and “The Ants” (1990, with Bert Hölldobler). He is the recipient of more than 100 other international medals and awards, including the National Medal of Science.

Currently serving his fourth term in the Senate, Sen. Kerry is the chairman of the Small Business Committee and a member of the Commerce, Finance and Foreign Affairs committees. His Senate priorities have included helping to provide health insurance for millions of low-income children and to improve public education, protect the natural environment and ensure that America's veterans have access to care and support.

“Senator Kerry is a national leader who recognizes the importance of investing in young Americans by ensuring they have access to an affordable college education,” said Interim Provost Donald Pierson. “Our UMass Lowell community is pleased to have Senator Kerry speak to our graduates and join us to celebrate their accomplishments.”

This year, for the first time, a scholarship fundraising dinner will be hosted by Chancellor Meehan the night before commencement, during which the honorary degree recipients, distinguished alumni and student award recipients will be acknowledged.  

The University also will honor Thomas O’Connor with the Distinguished Alumni Award.  O’Connor, who received a B.S. in Biological Science in 1977 and a M.S. in Environmental Science in 1980, has created two endowed funds at UMass Lowell.  He is president and CEO of DCP Midstream, LLP, one of the nation’s largest natural gas gatherers and processors, and one of the nation’s largest natural gas liquids producers and marketers.

In a change from recent years, the names of all graduates will be called at the commencement ceremony.  Following the ceremony at the Tsongas Arena, individual colleges will host receptions for graduating students and their guests. 

More information, including a complete schedule of commencement day activities, is available at

* Editor's Note:  Photos and bios available upon request

UMass Lowell, with a national reputation in science, engineering and technology, is committed to educating students for lifelong success in a diverse world and conducting research and outreach activities that sustain the economic, environmental and social health of the region. It offers its 12,000 students more than 120 degree choices, internships, five-year combined bachelor’s to master’s programs and doctoral studies in the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Management, the School of Health and Environment, and the Graduate School of Education.

For more information, contact or 978-934-3224